Posted by: Lawyer Sanders | June 30, 2008

FutureGen clean coal power plant is apparently back on line, as DOE announces funding opportunities in restructured project.

FutureGen is a public-private partnership to design, build, and operate the world’s first coal-fueled, near-zero emissions power plant, at an estimated net project cost of US $1.5 billion. The commercial-scale plant will prove the technical and economic feasibility of producing low-cost electricity and hydrogen from coal while nearly eliminating emissions. It will also support testing and commercialization of technologies focused on generating clean power, capturing and permanently storing carbon dioxide, and producing hydrogen.

In February2003 the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) announced FutureGen, a $1 billion initiative to create a coal-based power plant focused on demonstrating a revolutionary clean coal technology that would produce hydrogen and electricity and mitigate greenhouse gas emissions. The FutureGen project was initiated in response to the National Energy Policy of May 2001, which emphasized the need for diverse and secure energy sources that could largely be provided by America’s most abundant domestic energy resource, coal.  

The commercial-scale plant will prove the technical and economic feasibility of producing low-cost electricity and hydrogen from coal while nearly eliminating emissions. It will also support testing and commercialization of technologies focused on generating clean power, capturing and permanently storing carbon dioxide, and producing hydrogen.  In December 2007, Mattoon Township, Coles County, Illinois northwest of Mattoon, Illinois was chosen as the site for the plant.

DOE partnered with the FutureGen Industrial Alliance, Inc, a consortium of some of the largest coal producers and users in the world on the FutureGen project.  For five years, DOE touted this effort, and their work with the FutureGen Industrial Alliance, as the most promising path towards energy from coal that would meet the challenge of reducing carbon emissions.

However, in January 2008, the Secretary of Energy shocked the nation when he announced that DOE was withdrawing from this project. On January 29, 2008, DOE suddenly announced it was withdrawing funding from FutureGen, effectively terminating the project. Illinois lawmakers claim funding was canceled after Illinois was chosen over Texas as the final site.

The reasons for DOE’s stunning decision were never made known.  The House Committee on Science and Technology’s Subcommittee on Investigations and Oversight asked for documents regarding DOE’s sudden and unexpected decision.  According to its website, the House Committee originally asked for DOE decision documents on FutureGen since April 2, 2008.

DOE refused to provide certain documents to the Committee on the grounds of executive privilege.  This morning, White House Counsel allowed Committee staff to review the withheld materials. Chairman Bart Gordon (D-TN) and Subcommittee Chairman Miller determined that three of the documents withheld from the Committee were important enough to seek a subpoena authorization from the Members. These documents included:

  • a briefing memorandum for the White House National Economic Counsel (NEC) produced on December 13, 2007 by DOE staff that laid out the reasons for terminating the FutureGen project and restructuring the program;
  • talking points crafted by DOE staff for Secretary Bodman to participate in an NEC meeting on December 14, 2007; and
  • e-mail traffic between a White House staffer and Energy Deputy Secretary Clay Sell and Undersecretary Bud Albright regarding costs on the project.

Faced with the prospect of a Committee subpoena, the White House and DOE pledged to provide these materials to the Committee within a matter of days.  The promise to provide the documents from White House Counsel to Subcommittee Chairman Brad Miller (D-NC) averted a subpoena being authorized for the materials. For more background on this issue, go to: http://democrats.science.house.gov/Media/File/Commdocs/markups/2008/Oversight/june26/Subpoena_Memo.pdf

Apparently, someone has mended some fences on the multi-billion dollar project.  On June 24, 2008, DOE issued a Funding Opportunity Announcement (FOA) to invest in DOE’s “restructured FutureGen” program.  Having averted a House Committee’s subpoena, DOE’s clean coal project is apparently back on line.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Categories

%d bloggers like this: